Serge Ibaka comes from a different world than any other NBA player. Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo to be specific. A world of refugees and war crimes. He was born number 15 out of 18 siblings. Yes, you read that right, 18. For him, basketball was a real escape.
He came to the NBA with a ton of raw skills, a athletic fit with the young Thunder, but almost no English.
“Last June, when we first brought him over, I had, quite frankly, just a tough time communicating with him,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He spoke very little English. It was like [he starts with hand gestures] “run fast,” “jump high,” “block shot.” It was really just a lot of visuals …
“Now I can talk to him, I might have to say it twice or three times to make sure he understands it. But he is fearless, a fierce competitor.”
Whatever Brooks has done has worked, Ibaka has grown throughout the season and been a revelation in the playoffs, dominating Lamar Odom for the first four games.
“Ibaka is a talented athlete, he’s done a really good job on Lamar,” Phil Jackson admitted.
Ibaka’s also taking weekly English classes, Brooks said. Pretty soon his English may be good enough for Jackson to start trying to play mind games with him through the media.